PROPRIOCEPTION, THE VESTIBULAR SYSTEM, AND THE PIKLER TRIANGLE
Children in their first years of life learn about their surrounding world through their senses. The information gathered by their senses is processed by their brain which then tells their body how to respond. We are all familiar with the five senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch, but there are two more senses that are less well known which also affect how a child interacts with their surrounding environment. The vestibular system and the proprioceptive sense are related to a child’s whole body balancing and moving through space.
The vestibular system is a child’s sense of balance. Tiny organs in the inner ear send information to the brain to inform a child about where they are in space. Incredibly enough it is the first sensory system to develop in a child while in the womb. It is essential for large muscle balance as well as the movement of the head including tracking with the eyes. It is this sense, for example, that allows a child to balance on one leg while getting dressed or be able to track words while reading. This sense becomes extremely important as a child enters school - it helps a child with posture when sitting up during circle time-keeping them focused, it helps a child’s language development, it helps a child’s ability to concentrate and self-regulate.
There are many simple ways to develop this sense at home by giving your child opportunities to explore their own body and how it works.
- a Pikler Triangle to explore climbing and balancing
- a wobble board is also a popular tool - for a budget-friendly version you can always create your own by rolling up a towel and placing it under a large sturdy cutting board
- jumping and bouncing games (also involves the proprioceptive sense)
- spinning games
- swinging games
- Yoga poses: downward-facing dog, inverted poses, or the mouse pose for a calming vestibular activity
- slow rocking movements
Proprioception, sometimes referred to as the sixth sense, is the sense that tells the body where it is in relation to its surroundings. As our nose helps us to smell, our skin, muscles, and joints are our body’s receptors for our proprioceptive sense. When walking to the bathroom at night it is this sense that helps you navigate through a dark room without bumping into furniture. When trying to open a jar with a tight lid, it is this sense that tells your body how much strength your muscles need to use.
There are generally two types of outlet for a child that needs proprioceptive input: heavy work and deep pressure.
Heavy work can include:
- Carrying heavy objects such as grocery bags or large water jugs
- Stacking or moving chairs/books
- Pushing or pulling objects with weight such as a wagon, shopping cart
- Riding bicycle
- Sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, raking
- Jumping and bouncing - on a trampoline, bed, off the sofa into cushions
- Climbing and hanging- on monkey bars, a Pikler Triangle, trees, or rocks
Deep pressure work can include:
- Wheelbarrow walk
- Using a rolling pin
- Playdough or clay pressings
- Make a cushion/pillow sandwich enveloping the child’s body using pressure
- Giving your child a tight hug, or a child hugging themselves in a tight ball
- Rolling on a yoga ball applying pressure through hands on the floor, or rolling the ball over the body of the child
Developing a child’s proprioception and vestibular sense will directly affect their self-regulation, coordination, posture, body awareness, the ability to focus, as well as speech and language development. It is ever so important for brain development as it floods the brain with information about the body’s position and movement which keeps a child’s brain active and alert- helping to maintain an optimal state for learning and focused attention. A child who suffers from an underdeveloped vestibular system may find it difficult to sit up and focus during classroom time as their brain attempts to compensate by stimulating the vestibular system through daydreaming or fidgeting. As we become more aware of the lasting benefits of a well-developed vestibular system and proprioceptive sense, it is undeniable how essential it is to work with your child on these at home.
Offering your child opportunities for activating games as well as calming games can work to develop your child’s self-awareness and ability to calm themselves and self-regulate independently. At home, you may want to set aside time to allow your child to do some heavy muscle or deep pressure work, especially before a child is expected to sit still. Typically this is before mealtimes or bedtime. By providing your child with vestibular and proprioceptive activities, your child can be calm, focused, and ready to participate. Recently, as we were getting ready for bed, my daughter self-directed her own need for proprioceptive input. She took the adult rolling pin from the drawer and began to roll a throw pillow back and forth over and over. This was her need for proprioceptive input before bedtime. As the adult, I observed and let her continue until she was finished. Then we continued our bedtime routine and she fell asleep quickly.
An excellent tool to have at home to meet these needs is a Pikler Triangle. Children will get proprioceptive input as well as develop their vestibular sense. Pikler Triangles offer your child opportunities for developing balance and muscle development as well as coordination. If placed in a common area of the home and left available to the child, it can become a tool used for self-directed regulation. Through climbing, hanging, and balancing on the Pikler Triangle, a child can achieve heavy muscle work, deep pressure input, and work on their vestibular sense.
We at Góc Montessori hope you found this article useful and can apply some of this with your child to make for a more peaceful home.